The topic of driverless cars has taken centre stage in recent news. In November, Chancellor Philip Hammond said that “the world is on the brink of a technological revolution, one that will change the way we work and live and transform our living standards for generations to come.”

Hammond also told the BBC that we can expect to see fully driverless cars on UK roads by 2021. This comes after a pledge by the government to invest in the sector.

Most new models of cars have level 2 automation capabilities. Level 2 automation (also known as partial automation) involves elements such as steering, speed and braking being controlled by one or more advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). However, a human is required to control all other elements of driving within a vehicle with level 2 automation.

A vehicle with level 5 automation, on the other hand, requires no human control. This type of vehicle is considered to be fully autonomous. Full automation will transform the way we live and work, opening up mobility to the disabled and elderly.

The benefits of autonomous cars

Another predicted benefit of driverless cars is the elimination of congestion. Driverless car technology will cut out the stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behaviour. This will remove the bottlenecks, lane changes and merges that can cause traffic jams and other disruptions. This is good news for the UK workforce, as according to the Department for Transport, 67% of workers in Great Britain currently travel to and from work in a car or van.

In a recent study by VitalityHealth and the University of Cambridge on the impact of commuting on employee health and productivity, links were found between long commutes and higher levels of stress, as well as reduced productivity.

The study found that long commutes can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing. For instance, longer-commuting workers are 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 37% more likely to have financial concerns and 12% more likely to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress. These workers were also 46% more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night, and 21% more likely to be obese.

Driverless cars may hold a solution to the negative impact of long commutes on UK workers health and productivity. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average commute time in the UK is 57 minutes. When commuting in a fully autonomous car, the need for human control is removed, meaning that commuting in driverless cars will provide motorists with an additional 220 hours of free time each year.

Productivity gains

A new study from WeBuyAnyCar which surveyed 2000 UK motorists who currently drive to and from work, reveals that driverless cars could make UK workers more productive. Over a quarter (27%) of respondents that took part in the study said that they would spend their time in a driverless car catching up on work and reading emails.

As well as productivity, the study also shows that driverless cars could help male motorists to relax. According to statistics from the Men’s Health Forum, at least one in ten of the male workforce is significantly stressed. A quarter (25%) of male respondents that took part in the WeBuyAnyCar study said that they would use their time commuting in driverless cars to sleep, and 17% said that they would meditate.

Fully autonomous driverless cars will present the UK workforce with the additional time needed to address the problems posed by long commutes. Long commute times have been proven to negatively impact UK workers health and reduce productivity.

Commuting in a driverless car will remove the stress caused by long journeys and congestion. Rather than a longer working day, driverless cars will provide motorists with newfound free time that can be used to work, either to shorten or ease their working day, or to focus on their mental health and well-being by taking the time to rest or for mindfulness.